Here’s a language learning tip that has worked really well for me: read children’s books. I’m talking books intended for children aged 0-5. Even if you aren’t a beginner. Here’s why:
- They are easy - This is as easy as reading material comes. Even if you are a complete beginner, if you have a dictionary around you will probably be able to grind your way through a ten-page board book for babies.
- They are fast – You can breeze through these books. It’s a very little investment in time, especially once you’ve read it a few times and “learn” the book. I’m talking 2 minutes or less.
- They are meant for native speakers – Parents that are real native speakers of your target language really read these books to their children. The language will be completely natural, native Spanish (or whatever).
- They are meant to be read aloud – Nobody sits hunched over a library desk late at night in the dark with a reading light and a six-pack of Red Bull taking detailed notes on “Where’s Spot?”. They read them out loud in funny voices to their kids. You will read them out loud too. Your mouth will get used to forming the words in the books. Many children’s books are very repetitive:
Who’s hiding behind the door? It’s a mouse!
Who’s hiding under the bed? It’s a lion!
Who’s hiding inside the box? It’s a giraffe!
Reading books like this out loud will get you really used to saying simple sentences in your target language, fluently and without effort. It just rolls off your tongue.
- They have lots of pictures – this ties in with #2: being fast, but pictures also give you hints about what a word might mean. This can save you dictionary time on your first read through.
- They often contain slang/shortened language – No textbook sentences here. Native speakers often omit words, run words together or otherwise take shortcuts in their language. The only way to learn these rules and tricks is to be exposed to them. Children’s books do this alot.
- You can catch up on culture that you missed by not being raised in the target language – Do you know how to say “Ready, Set, Go!” to start a footrace in your target language? Do you know how to play Hide-and-seek? Peek-a-boo? Do you know the cutesy names for animals (kitty, fishy, birdie)? Do you know how to say “whoopsie-daisy” and “uh-oh”? Guess what. Every native speaker DOES! Children’s books are easy and fast (see points #1 and #2). It won’t take long to catch up.
- You learn sound words – Do you know how to say “splat”, “splash”, “zoom”, “bonk”, “crash”, “whoosh”, “squish” in your target language? How about “woof woof”, “meow”, “moo”, “oink”, “cluck”, “quack” and “roar”? How do you describe the sound a watermelon makes when you smash it open? Many of these are words that people use on a daily basis even as adults. This is a great way to learn them.
- They usually have a specific theme or topic – animals, body parts, relative directions (under, over, in, on, behind, in front of), vehicles, fruit, vegetables, family members. Learn all your animals at once, in repetitive setences (see point #4). You will learn them without even trying.
That’s just the tip of the ice berg too. You can learn a lot with very little time or effort. Here’s how to do it:
- Find a children’s book in your target language. Good places to check are the library, the used bookstore, and google (for foreign bookstores).
- Read it out loud. Try to guess the meaning based on the pictures. Use a dictionary for stuff you have no clue about.
- Read it again.
- You’re finished. That took about 5 minutes. Now do it again tomorrow. In a couple days, you’ll be able to recite the book without opening it (but do open it! Seeing the pictures will help reinforce everything for you).
- Back to step 1. Find another children’s books. Get a little collection going.
If you have a baby or a kid that you can read it too, even better (that’s how I stumbled upon this tip).
Try it. It works.
Do you have any language learning tips? Post them in the comments.
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